In the midst of excitement and confusion attendant to the just concluded political exercise was the incident that happened in the vicinities below Batanes islands, but more specifically in the Balintang channel involving foreign fishermen and the Philippine coastguard personnel.
We will not delve into the details and legalities of this event but nonetheless caught our interest on the fact that the fishermen came from an island township of Liouciou in Pingtung county of Taiwan.
The island has an estimated population of 13K inhabitants majority are engaged in fishing. With an approximate land area of 6.8 square kilometers, it is located on the southwest of Taiwan island separated only by the South China Sea.
According to information, due to its “little population” the island does not have a high school hence middle school graduates study in Taiwan main island. Separated by about 9 miles of seawater, the islanders travel by ship for 30 minutes. There used to be a regular flight connecting the island to Taiwan. Now the airport is being used by helicopters only.
Liouciou is almost identical to Batanes island, somewhat smaller but with a population lesser by a few thousands. The glaring difference is that it has a very well defined road network, meaning, the government has spent considerable money for its development. Tourism is a strong source of income in the island, among others.
Looking closer to home, inside the Bicol region, we looked for one similar to Liouciou. The most likely candidate is the island about four miles off the coast of Cawayan town of Masbate. The island has two barangays- Talisay and Looc.
Talisay has a population of 1,185 and Looc with 2,540.
The island’s school-age kids study either in Talisay Elementary School or Looc Elementary School. After graduation, many of the students may not have the opportunity to pursue high school education due to constraints in family finances. The nearest high school is just four miles away across the strait, in Cawayan town.
What is well pronounced in the tiny Bicol island is that majority, if not all, of the households are living out of the bounty of the sea as fisherfolks, very much similar to Liouciou.
But whereas the Taiwan township is more developed with road network, the tiny island in Masbate is apparently, a haven of poverty and government neglect.
There are more outlying islands that surround Taiwan, and all are well developed and some served with regular airline schedules.
Meanwhile in Talisay-Looc, residents commute towards the mainland town many by small boats. Liouciou and Talisay-Looc are two worlds apart, though their mother countries are virtually a “stone’s throw away.”